Elgar: Organ Sonatas in G, Op. 28, & in B flat, Op. 87a (arr. Atkins); Vesper Voluntaries, Op. 14; Cantique in C, Op. 3/1; Loughborough Memorial Chime

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COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Organ Sonatas in G, Op. 28, & in B flat, Op. 87a (arr. Atkins); Vesper Voluntaries, Op. 14; Cantique in C, Op. 3/1; Loughborough Memorial Chime
PERFORMER: John Butt (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907281
There is a pleasing symmetry to this disc in that just as Elgar spent some formative early years in the organ loft, graduating to the wider world of large-scale orchestral and choral music, so John Butt, the distinguished Bach scholar, returns to King’s College, Cambridge, where he once held the post of organ scholar.

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His programme combines the well-known Organ Sonata No. 1 in G with the Second Sonata in B flat, arranged by Ivor Atkins from the Severn Suite (claimed by Butt in his interesting booklet note as actually more idiomatic than the purpose-built one), and a group of Vesper Voluntaries.

Butt’s account of the G major Sonata’s first movement is idiosyncratic in the extreme, with wild fluctuations of tempo not marked in the score. Perhaps the intention is to rescue the work from the musty atmosphere of the organ loft and present it as a breathing symphonic organism, but I do not find the result convincing in terms of structural coherence. The less ambitious Second Sonata fares better, though both exploit the King’s College instrument to fine effect.

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Butt makes a case (in his notes, and to some extent in his performance) for the Vesper Voluntaries as valuable prentice experimentation with modulation and phrase-lengths. To less sympathetic ears it may sound like organ-loft meandering. Barry Millington